Posted by LT Stephanie Young, Wednesday, February 27, 2013
With contributions from the 9th Coast Guard District.
It was a symphony of unique sounds on ice-covered Lake Erie. The signature hum of Coast Guard rescue helicopters contended against the powerful roar of airboats as responders strained their voices to call out rescue commands. With man and machine competing for attention, Mother Nature was more restrained with the subtle crackle and pop of breaking ice.
Lake Erie at Station Marblehead, Ohio, was the symphony’s venue as more than two dozen local, state and federal agencies participated in Icy Resolve, a training exercise testing mass rescue operations in a cold-weather maritime environment.
Icy Resolve – simulating the crash of a commuter airplane into ice-covered Lake Erie – employed numerous airboats, helicopters and shore-based rescue crews and provided rescuers the opportunity to evaluate their plans, capabilities and coordination. Icy Resolve also tested each agency’s ability to execute critical incident communications, emergency medical care and many other elements of mass rescue operations.
“It is imperative that we continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to strengthen our response capabilities,” said Capt. Andrew Sugimoto, chief of incident management at the 9th Coast Guard District. “That’s the only way we can synchronize our policies, procedures and tactics to deliver the level of service our Great Lakes citizens and visitors deserve.”
Crews from the 9th Coast Guard District conduct hundreds of ice rescues and training events each winter, and Icy Resolve is the pinnacle of their training. With 39 stations, eight cutters and two air stations equipped for ice rescue missions it is truly an all-hands effort.
In order to get the most hands-on training, the “crash” site was divided into two areas: short-haul and long-haul. This was an important distinction as each area had its own unique way of operating within.
The short-haul site was close to shore where the rescuers walked out on the ice to recover people in distress. The ice here was not very thick, meaning it could not support the full weight of airboats. The long-haul site was in Sandusky Bay, about a half mile offshore, where the ice was much thicker.
“There was a lot of adrenaline flowing during the exercise, because everyone involved was responding as if this event actually happened,” said Cmdr. Lisa Ragone, an incident commander from Sector Detroit. “The intent is for everyone involved to learn what it would take to respond to a real-life emergency of this magnitude.”
The arduous environment means the Coast Guard most certainly cannot perform the rescues alone. Agencies, who work alongside crews day-to-day, were also on hand at the exercise. Representatives from local fire and sheriff’s departments were joined by the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, American Red Cross and emergency medical services.
“Exercises like this are critical to effective emergency preparedness,” said Fred Petersen, director of the Ottawa County Emergency Management Agency. “It gives us the opportunity to test our response plans and ensure that our integrated planning and training efforts would result in an effective and efficient response to a real event like this.”
There were also a number of observers who were present to learn about ice operations, including the Windsor Fire & Rescue Services, from Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Great Lakes crews have been working with Windsor to help them develop ice rescue capacity of their own.
Icy Resolve was lots of hard work for the crews involved, not to mention it made for some frosty fingers and toes. But rescuers know their efforts in the exercise will reflect in real-life emergencies such as a 2009 mass-rescue operation where emergency responders rescued 134 people trapped on an ice floe adrift in Lake Erie. The sound of ice cracking below the rescuers feet may have been subtle, but the danger ice presents is palpable and real.
To read a first-person account of Icy Resolve operations, head over to Coast Guard Great Lakes.
Tags: 9th coast guard district, canada, exercise, fire department, Fred Petersen, great lakes, ice, ice rescue, Icy Resolve, mass rescue operation, MRO, ohio, Sector Detroit, sheriff's department, Station Marblehead